Brad Gaines still lives them every day — nearly 31 years after Ole Miss defensive back Chucky Mullins was paralyzed while delivering a hit to the Vanderbilt fullback. Mullins died 20 months later from complications due to the injury. He was 21.
Gaines was always open to someone making a movie about Chucky, their deep friendship that developed, the human goodness that poured from the hearts of fans from schools all over the Southeast.
But for him to cooperate, it had to be the right fit, the right script, the right storyteller.
“I received a whole bunch of scripts,” says Gaines by phone from his home in Nashville. “But it seemed like they all wanted to add some stuff.
“One script had me becoming an alcoholic while dealing with the guilt of Chucky’s death. I told the guy, ‘There’s one problem here. I don’t drink.’ And that’s the way it went for years.”
Until one day he read the right script, then helped put together funding to make the film. Finally, the movie — “It’s Time” — was set to premier March 18 as part of the Oxford Film Festival.
Of course, the festival was canceled because of the coronavirus pandemic.
With so much uncertainty still surrounding the virus, no one is sure when “It’s Time” will reach theaters.
“We would like for it to be shown during football season — if there is one,” Gaines says. “But one of the problems is, there are going to be a lot of movies sort of stacked up that weren’t able to be shown, either. So a lot of movies are going to be competing for slots. We’ll have to wait and see but I do think theaters in the Southeast are going to be interested in showing it while football is being played.”
Says Millette, who along with his wife Lynne made a donation toward the project: “God has a plan. It’s taken so long to get this done, and we had our share of problems during filming. The one thing we know is that God’s timing is perfect. When the movie is supposed to hit theaters, it will.”
Millette was there that day in October 1989, sitting in the north end zone just a few yards from the collision.
“I was a young lawyer and working all the time,” he says. “I didn’t buy season tickets because I didn’t know how many games I’d be able to go to. So I went up , bought tickets outside the stadium and had no idea what I was about to witness.”
This is what Millette remembers about the collision: “The play was slow developing. It almost looked like slow motion. When Brad tried to catch the ball, Chucky hit him really hard with what looked like a shoulder blow. He slobber-knocks him. And when he did, Chucky fell to the turf like a sack of potatoes. You heard the thud when he hit the ground. Chucky didn’t move. Everybody sitting in that end zone knew something was terribly wrong.
“I’ve never been in a stadium that quiet. It was dead still. Eerie.”
When Gaines was putting together the money to help fund the movie, he visited with Millettes — Ole Miss alums — at their home in Destin.
“We prayed about,” Sam Millette says, “and we felt like it was a story that needed to be told.”
Gaines and the Millettes are listed as executive producers.
“It was a labor of love,” Millette says. “Watching some of the scenes being shot was surreal. The day we filmed the hit, (Ole Miss coach) Billy Brewer was there. So were some of Chucky’s teammates. Deano Orr. Trae Sutherland.
“That scene was really powerful but really well done. Coach Brewer was very introspective that day. Of course, he was reliving an event that shaped the rest of his life.”
There were two other scenes that Millette talks about.
“When Brad showed up at the hospital in Memphis to see about Chucky, he had to walk right through the middle of a lot of Ole Miss players,” Millette says. “There were whispers … ‘That’s him’ …
“And on the day of the funeral, Brad pulls up in his old clunker of a car and Coach Brewer and the team spotted him. Coach Brewer told Brad, ‘Today, you are an Ole Miss Rebel.’ And he walked with the team.”
Gaines wasn’t there for any of those three scenes.
“Still too painful,” he says.
No movie, song or book is a certain hit.
Gaines and Millette know that. But they believe the story — the real story — has been captured by the film.
“It’s a love story,” says Gaines, who drives two-and-a-half hours every Christmas morning, from Nashville to Russellville, Ala., to clean Chucky’s grave and have a conversation. “And it touches on so many aspects of society. I think people will respond to it.”
Says Sam Millette: “Bring your tissues. You’re gonna need them.”